Middlebury College fosters a sense of connectedness to the environment and community through its leadership, sustainability initiatives, and campus culture. With Nan Jenks- Jay, Dean of Environmental Affairs, the oldest environmental studies program in the country, and over fifteen student environmental groups, sustainability permeates the curriculum and campus community. Institution wide support together with a passionate and engaged student body instills environmentally conscious action and behavior. The sense of environmental responsibility and creative spirit shapes the college’s values and policies while preparing students to thoughtfully engage with issues of climate change and sustainability following graduation.
Students consistently provide the impetus behind sustainability initiatives on campus demonstrating great curiosity, creativity, and leadership. In 2006 students convinced the Trustees to pass a resolution to achieve carbon neutrality by 2016, setting Middlebury’s ‘Making Neutrality a Reality’ campaign into motion. Projects including carbon neutrality, LEED certified buildings, a biomass plant, and a two-acre solar tracker installation create rich educational opportunities while reducing Middlebury’s carbon footprint and supporting the local economy.
Collaboration between students, faculty, and staff defines sustainability strategies as exemplified by the Environmental Council, a campus organization that acts as an adviser to the college president. This year’s subcommittees, food and dining, greening athletics, and carbon neutrality, aim to offer fresh perspectives and propose new solutions to tough issues. The carbon neutrality group is quantifying whether our biomass plant is truly carbon neutral, a concern surrounding biomass gasification. After assessing the plant’s carbon emissions the group will create a framework for an accounting method that can hopefully be applicable to similar biomass facilities.
Middlebury values its core liberal arts curriculum, but also acknowledges the growing need to prepare students to engage with urgent social problems like climate change. The Franklin Environmental Center and The Center for Social Entrepreneurship serve as nodes that inspire collaboration, thoughtful analysis, and the application of ideas to the real world.
Environmental student groups ignite conversation and action leading to progress that begins at Middlebury and moves beyond. In 2007 a group of students and Bill McKibben founded 350.org, paving the way for activism on campus. Today a group of Middlebury students, Divest for our Future, asks the provoking question, can the college be carbon neutral if it invests in companies abetting climate change? The Socially Responsible Investment Club works to promote transparency and responsibility in the college’s investment practices and recently succeeded in having a student member appointed to the Trustees’ Investment Committee.
As a 2007 alum said to the incoming Class of 2016 at a carbon neutrality event this Fall: “You guys don’t know it yet, but you are at a place that almost obligates you to change it for the better before you leave.” While working to positively influence the college and local community, Middlebury also spreads its influence globally, helping to lead our society towards a more sustainable future.